Time to honour Jinnah’s August 11 speech

To establish true democracy we need to make some changes to the constitution keeping in view Quaid-e-Azam’s August 11, 1947 speech

Nasir Saeed , August 15, 2014

We commemorated Pakistan’s Independence Day on August 14. Pakistanis always celebrate this day with passion and dedication but this year the PML-N government announced a celebration of independence spread over 30 days and have organised several events. I hope the month-long celebrations bring some changes, especially to the mindset of politicians who, instead of making a lot of noise, should give at least some relief to poor and suffering Pakistanis. However, holding out such hopes for Pakistani politicians is futile. A change in the attitude of politicians is needed more than ever before if Pakistan is to grow into a peaceful and prosperous country. Politicians have failed to protect the minorities and take real steps towards establishing an equal and fair society where all religious communities can live side by side without fear and suspicion.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) talk about revolution and change, and have announced an independence march and revolution march (long marches) to end the reign of Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif, and bring “real democracy” to the country. But I have some doubts because I believe that real democracy cannot be installed by simply getting rid of one prime minister and appointing another. To establish true democracy we need to make some changes to the constitution, keeping in view Quaid-e-Azam’s August 11, 1947 speech. He said, “We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one state.” He stated further, “You are free. You are free to go to your temples. You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion, caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the state.” 
This was not the only occasion when the Quaid assured minorities that they would be equal citizens of the country. However, it is this speech that has historical significance as the Quaid was addressing the inaugural session of Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly. Though this speech astounded some people, the Quaid was very clear in his mind and soul. Jinnah’s biographer Hector Bolitho states that “he worked, for many hours on the presidential address”, which was undoubtedly “the greatest speech of his life”, but there are nonetheless those who raise questions about this speech. Sadly, we have all forgotten what our Quaid said and, instead of drafting Pakistan’s constitution in the light of this speech, we set our own guidelines for the new country with the inevitable consequence of living in a totally different Pakistan. Conversely, we adopted the Objectives Resolution against the will of minority Assembly representatives, now a part of the present constitution. It not only bars the minorities from taking up the highest posts but also makes them second-class citizens of the country so they are never involved in the country’s policy making.
Recently, when the ex-Chief Justice (CJ) of Pakistan, Tassaduq Husain Jillani, ordered the constitution of a Council for Minorities’ Rights (CMR), the minority community’s hopes were raised by the prospect of a re-evaluation of their constitutional and political roles. However, this faded away when the government and opposition reached a consensus on the framework of the council and even chose its members without consulting minority groups. Some Christian organisations have raised their concerns and demanded that the council be independent and autonomous, all the members should be non-parliamentarians and the chair must be from a minority group. Will the government take them seriously or will their demand fall on deaf ears? There was a time when Pakistan’s minorities were 20 percent of the population but now they are five percent and shrinking. The minorities continuously cry out against their mistreatment but since no one is paying any attention, many are fleeing to India and other countries. In this country they may become extinct one day. Under pressure from the PTI, the government has formed an electoral reforms committee. Certainly this is a positive step and almost all the stakeholders acknowledge the need to hold fair, free and transparent elections in the future. However, once again, minorities have been completely ignored despite Christian institutions educating many politicians, bureaucrats, judges and generals.
All minorities, and Christians particularly, are against the present electoral system’s disproportionate representation. Sadly, when this system was introduced in 2002, Christians were not consulted. Christians have been demanding a dual electoral system for years, where they have a right to vote for general seats in the National Assembly and to choose their own representatives. In 1996, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto had this measure approved by her federal cabinet but, unfortunately, it was never implemented. Now, it is the responsibility of her successors to uphold her legacy. Christians have also demanded an increase in their seats in all lower and upper legislative houses, proportionate to their population. Their demands are justified and the government must find a way to listen and give them dual voting rights. It would not harm any government nor is it against the vision of Pakistan. 
In the UK, political parties encourage and make special efforts to give election tickets to minority members on safe seats to ensure their representation in parliament. Former British cabinet minister Baroness Sayeeda Warsi is one example. As we celebrate our 67th Independence Day and commemorate the Quaid’s August 11 speech, we are still reluctant to make policies in the light of this speech. Even after 68 years, we are not willing to consider the minorities equal citizens of Pakistan as promised to them by the Quaid, despite the minorities playing their role in the progress of Pakistan. It is time to honour the Quaid’s word and what he promised the minorities and their leadership that supported his struggle for an independent Pakistan.

Courtesy: Daily Times, Pakistan

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